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James R. Jenner (1932-2017) 
Public Defender, Alameda County (retired 1989) 

Submitted by on October 28, 2017 – 08:23No Comment

James R. Jenner & Mina Jenner

James R. Jenner, the Former Public Defender of Alameda Co, Noted Trial Lawyer, Speaker and Author, passed away at his home on October 15th, 2017, with his loving wife of 33 years, Mina Jenner, at his side.

Jim was born in 1932, in his beloved small town of Portola, CA., where his father was an engineer on the Western Pacific Line and his mother was a nurse. He always cherished the halcyon days, growing up like “Huck Finn”. Jim had visions of playing professional baseball, but his talents lead him to a career in the law. He graduated from UC Berkeley, Magna Cum Laude in 1955. Following College he enlisted as a Private in the US Army where he served as a Russian translator and military intelligence interrogator. Jim went on to Law School at UC Berkeley, Boalt Hall, class of 1960. Following Law School he was chosen as a Ford Foundation Scholar where he did advanced studies at the University of Madrid.

In his professional life, Jim is remembered for his reputation as a trial lawyer and keynote speaker. Jim, in his heart and in fact, was foremost a felony trial lawyer in the Alameda Public Defenders Office, a law office he would later lead. Jim earned a nationwide reputation as a courtroom lawyer and counted notables among his clients, including Hells Angel’s President Sonny Barger and Russel Little of the SLA. In the 1960’s he also led the defense of the People’s Park demonstrators. As a trial lawyer of unusual skill, and graced with a talent for lively forensic flair, he was in high demand as a speaker. Jim spoke across the Nation and appeared on the lecture circuit with all or most of the notable lawyers of his time. No one left the room when Jim was at the podium.

Jim was a respected writer. To his credit are dozens of publications on criminal procedure and practice. He is the author of the book that became the definitive source for Criminal Discovery Law.

Following a Nationwide search in 1977, Jim was selected to be the head of the Los Angeles County Public Defenders Office, the largest law office in the Country. After a day of thought, he turned down the position to accept leadership of the Alameda County Public Defenders Office, where he had started his career in 1962. He proudly managed this department until his retirement in 1989. Once when giving a budget presentation to the Board of Supervisors, to their amazement, he recited, while holding a skull, the grave digger’s speech from Hamlet to make his point. The budget increase was approved.

Early on, Jim had served as a research assistant to noted Conflicts of Law Scholar Albert Ehrenzweig, in Colorado. It was Professor Ehrenzweig who suggested that Jim “go climb the mountains” and explore the Rockies. This was the beginning of Jim’s lifelong love of mountaineering. Jim made over 1,000 ascents of peaks worldwide, including many of the great peaks of Europe and 39 ascents of Mt. Shasta. As a man of habit and action, Jim seldom missed a Bay to Breakers, and ran more than 20 marathons.

Mina, who is an avid hiker and climber in her own right, and Jim were companions in their love of nature and the outdoors, climbing to the highest points in 50 states, traveling and hiking the world together and attending most Cal, USF and St. Marys’ women’s basketball games.

Jim put his prodigious talents to work writing poetry and short stories, perfecting his model train layouts and enjoying the classical music he loved so much. Jim made the most of every second of his life and was a true Renaissance man.

Jim is survived by his wife, Mina Jenner, and by his three stepchildren, all of whom he was very proud. Kathy (Taylor) Luce of Eureka, CA, and Paul and Eric Taylor of Murphys, CA, as well as five grandchildren and two great grandchildren.

A memorial honoring Jim’s life will be held at Rossmoor in the Fireside Room on Nov. 14th at 3:00. Donations in his memory may be made to the ACLU.


Published in San Francisco Chronicle from Oct. 28 to Oct. 30, 2017

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